Happy Saturday one and all.
1. What has been the biggest difference between MVP candidate Jalen Hurts and this seasons Jalen Hurts?
Turnovers have been an issue.
In 2022, Hurts turned the ball over eight times in 15 regular season games. He threw six interceptions and lost two of his nine fumbles.
In 2023, Hurts has turned the ball over 18 times in 15 regular season games. He’s thrown 13 interceptions and lost five of his nine fumbles.
Why the increase? There are multiple factors. He was bound for some natural regression after having such a strong season last year. In some cases, he’s had some bad luck. But he’s also made his own bad luck at times by holding onto the ball for entirely too long; he has the third-slowest average time-to-throw this season at 3.12 seconds. He seemed to be seeing the field better last year when he averaged 2.86 seconds.
Hurts was also dealing with a bone bruise in his knee earlier this year. He seems to be running better recently but his mobility hasn’t been the same weapon that it was in 2022. Hurts has generally been more cautious about avoiding big hits, which is smart. But his approach has contributed to fewer explosive runs.
Despite taking a step back, Hurts is obviously still one of the league’s better quarterbacks. The Eagles wouldn’t win so much if that wasn’t the case. But it would be nice to see him looking sharper entering the playoffs.
2. The defense has taken a step back, does the departure of Jonathan Gannon have anything to do with it?
I’ll refer you to this excellent Sheil Kapadia rant from August 30:
Getting ahead of an Eagles take I don’t want to hear this season. pic.twitter.com/pB5LTdhIbL— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) August 30, 2023
Gannon is the defensive coordinator who oversaw this:
Note from this episode. The Eagles have played 400 games since 2000. Among that sample, the defensive performance in the Super Bowl ranked:— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) February 15, 2023
* 391st in EPA per drive
* 395th in success rate https://t.co/PDN4wKfCqn
Based on offensive success rate, the Chiefs' performance was tied for the 6th-best of any team this season - that's out of a sample of 568.— Sheil Kapadia (@SheilKapadia) February 13, 2023
It was the Chiefs' best game (based on success rate) all season.
Eagles defense held without a single sack.
Do you think this came up in Jonathan Gannon’s interviews? pic.twitter.com/eswyP87nzS— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) January 22, 2022
He’s a liar and a fraud. He is not missed.
3. Speaking of Gannon, who is missed more this year, Gannon or Shane Steichen?
As you may have guessed from my last answer, it’s Steichen.
I do think the impact of his departure has been overstated, however. It’s not like the offense has totally fallen off a cliff without him. And just because he was the play-caller doesn’t mean he had total authority over the offense; that’s on Nick Sirianni at the end of the day.
The 2022 Eagles ranked 2nd in offensive points per game, 3rd in offensive DVOA, 3rd in EPA per play, and 3rd in success rate.
The 2023 Eagles rank 7th in offensive points per game, 8th in offensive DVOA, 5th in EPA per play, and 5th in success rate.
It’s important to note that the 2022 Eagles faced the NFL’s second-easiest offensive schedule while the 2023 Eagles have faced the NFL’s 11th-toughest offensive schedule (per FTN Fantasy).
That said, this year’s offense hasn’t always felt as successful as the numbers indicate. It’s been frustrating and inconsistent at times. There have been some growing pains with first-time NFL play-caller Brian Johnson.
4. Give me one player who we may not have heard much about for the Eagles this year.
I’m going to go with Olamide Zaccheaus.
OZ only has 16 targets this season but he’s made some plays when the ball has come his way. His eight receptions have gone for 144 yards (18.0 average) and two touchdowns.
OZ has also offered impact beyond the box score with great downfield blocking on catch-and-run touchdowns by A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. He just pancaked a Giants defender into the end zone on Christmas.
In Week 17, the Eagles finally benched the under-performing Quez Watkins. There’s a path to more playing time for OZ. He’s not going to see many targets in an offense that features Brown, DeVonta, and Dallas Goedert. But he’s capable of contributing when his number is called.
I’ll cheat and also mention Britain Covey here. The Eagles’ punt returner is averaging the second-most yards this season. He nearly took a punt to the house on Monday. They also made an effort to get him his first reception of his career on a screen play.
The Eagles will probably mix up who they play in the slot but OZ and Covey are more prototypical options in that spot. And I like their chances against former Eagle Andre Chachere or whoever the Cards are putting in there.
5. The Eagles are winning this game. They are favored by 11 according to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook. I would probably put the line more at 14.5, but how far up would you go in this one?
At the time of me typing this answer, the line has shifted to the Eagles being favored by 12 points.
On one hand, it’s tough to merely assume the Eagles are going to win easy. That’s just not something this team has done this year. Their largest margin of victory this season is 14 points, which they did twice. Their average margin of victory is 7.1 points.
On the other hand, as you’ve outlined in your answers to my questions, the Cardinals aren’t very good! If there was ever a time for the 2023 Eagles to have a comfortable, maybe it’s here.
I’ll take the Eagles to win this game, 35 to 17.